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Share via Email This week 87 football matches will be legally shown or streamed live in Britain. And, indeed, as far back as the BBC stopped radio broadcasts of Football League games because of fears they were damaging attendances.
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Yet when it comes to live football on TV the horse has not merely bolted but is doing cartwheels across multiple continents while sticking up one finger at the doubters.
This week an astonishing 87 games will be legally shown or streamed live in Britain — a number that would be higher still if Eleven Sports had not temporarily stopped broadcasting European football games during the 3pm Saturday blackout.
Few expect the blackout, that oasis between 2. Indeed the direction of travel is for viewers to one day be able to watch every game, home and away, without running the gauntlet of dozens of pop-ups on a dodgy internet site.
That might sound tremendous for fans, but the Premier League has always been wary — understandably fearing it would lead to a drop in attendances, a decline in atmosphere and less money the next time it hawked its product to broadcasters. Less discussed are the effects on smaller clubs lower down the English league food chain if there is a broadcasting free-for-all.
But compelling new research from three academics — Babatunde Buraimo of the University of Liverpool, and Jake Owen and Rob Simmons of Lancaster University — does not paint a rosy picture.
The academics trawled through 27, Football League matches between and to answer a simple question: what happens to attendances at Championship, League One and League Two matches when TV is showing a midweek Premier League or Champions League match at the same time?
Naturally that varied per season and per league, with League Two bearing the brunt of the fall.
You might think since European football went off terrestrial TV things may have improved. It is early days, but when the authors compared attendances across 10 Championship, League One and League Two games played on 8 September, for which there were corresponding fixtures in the season, they discovered an average drop of 3.
It would be unwise to infer too much into a small sample given there are many confounding factors, such as timing of games and form and status of the teams involved which would vary between seasons.
Yet it is not hard to discern where the winds are blowing.
We know that Champions League games affect the gates of lower-league clubs. So, probably, does streaming matches.
Lifting the blackout would be another blow. In effect it would be an added form of compensation for the negative consequences inflicted on League One and League Two clubs by Premier League sides playing in the Champions League at the same time as them.
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If football is truly a sport where solidarity and the grass roots matters then increasing the level of subsidy further down the pyramid is quite affordable. Altruism is not exactly their forte, after all. But if the broadcasting market does turn into a massive free-for-all, and more fans stay away from lower league stadiums, something will need to be done.